top of page

HOW TO: Develop Active Thinking & Engaged Learning Skills

Are you looking to help your child practice their active and critical thinking skills?

According to Sarah Ward's 360 Thinking program for executive skill development, making something actionable starts with putting an image in your working memory. When we take information in through our senses, without knowing it (and so quickly that we're not conscious of it), we need to put that information into the thought bubble in our brain, make it visual, and then figure out all the steps, moving backward through time and space, to make that happen. We do this before we enter the space we need to do the task in, and when we enter that space, we have done a dress rehearsal for what needs to happen and we're ready to go! However, if someone struggles with executive functions, this process does not always happen naturally or automatically. That's why, when we teach a skill to a child, they may not always implement it -- because they have not visualized themselves applying what they know to a given situation.

So what can we do to help with this? Let's practice active and engaged thinking!

We can help children develop active and engaged participatory thinking by helping to make things visual and model what critical thinking might look like around that item. For example, let's say a child can never find anything, even when they should know where it is or it's staring them right in the face. Instead of just telling them where their markers are, let's think of how else we can approach it:

Let's think about what the markers look like. Let's draw or pull up an image of it.

Where do you think we could find them? If the answer is "I don't know", then dig deeper -- identify and describe each possible location and use hand gestures to mime what you are referring to:

  • Which room do you usually use the markers in?

  • Where do they usually get put away?

Develop an IF/THEN plan. Discuss the possibility of what will happen if the markers are not in the first location; then what will you do next? Where else can they be?

Why don't we go look together to see if the markers are there? When you look together, guide the child to go to the discussed place first as opposed to doing it for them.

Congratulations, you just coached your child to think actively, use their visual working memory, break a task into a small part, and use flexible thinking! Woohoo!!! 🎉

Want some extra practice? Here's a really good one...

I am seriously obsessed with this A-M-A-Z-I-N-G Podcast called The Sound Detectives by Levar Burton (yes, Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow). I would say it's suitable for students in grades 3-6 (maybe grade 7-8 if they're open to it and like kids stuff). I also think some teenagers would roll their eyes at it but maybe do it with their younger siblings or together as a family if it was made fun.

Here's a video clip to give you an idea of what this Podcast is like:

Although it sounds just like the clip, there are no images to see, only the ones you create in your mind -- or that you practice drawing on paper (hmm... is drawing important things that you're listening to and imagining secretly the beginnings of learning how to take notes??? 🤣) Not only are these stories funny and engaging, but they're also extremely descriptive -- absolutely perfect to practice using active thinking and executive function skills!

Here's an example of the process. We see in the video above that Audi is a tiny walking ear. But in the Podcast, we can't see that, there is only an image of Audi. When that image is given, pause, and say to your child, "What? A walking and talking 3-foot-tall ear with a face and a mouth? What do you think Audi looks like?" Then have them draw Audi. When I did this with a student a few months ago, the response was "Hey, that's how tall my sister is! Audi is like an ear the size of my sister!". Now that's amazing, because that student got an image, got it on the note-taking paper, and then related it to real life. Now that's active and engaged learning!

Hope you give it a try! Enjoy 😊


bottom of page